Instructional Science

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 607–633 | Cite as

Searching the Web to learn about a controversial topic: are students epistemically active?



Students are making an increased use of the Web as a source for solving information problems for academic assignments. To extend current research about search behavior during navigation on the Web, this study examined whether students are able to spontaneously reflect, from an epistemic perspective, on the information accessed, and whether their epistemic metacognition is related to individual characteristics, such as prior knowledge of the topic and the need for cognition. In addition, we investigated whether Internet-based learning is influenced by the activation of spontaneous epistemic metacognition in the search context. Forty-six psychology and engineering university students were asked to research information about a controversial subject in order to write an essay. They were also asked to think aloud during their research. Both qualitative and quantitative analyses were performed. As revealed by their spontaneous reflections, all participants were epistemically active, although to different extents and levels. As expected, there was evidence that students activated beliefs about the four epistemic dimensions identified in the literature, especially about the credibility of an electronic source and the criteria for justification of knowledge. Prior knowledge was not related to activation of epistemic beliefs in the search context, while the need for cognition significantly associated with aspects of source and its content evaluation. Two patterns of epistemic metacognition were identified and they significantly influenced Internet-based learning. Students who spontaneously generated more sophisticated reflections about the sources as well as the information provided, outperformed students who were active only at the first epistemic level. Educational implications are drawn.


Epistemic metacognition Epistemic beliefs Epistemological beliefs New literacy Information searching Critical thinking 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Developmental and Socialization Psychology (DPSS)University of PaduaPaduaItaly

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